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Identifying False & Misleading News

What makes a news story false or misleading?

1. It can't be verified.
A false or misleading news article may or may not have links in it tracing its sources; if it does, these links may not lead to articles outside of the site's domain or may not contain information pertinent to the article topic.

2. It appeals to emotion.
Deliberately misleading news plays on your emotions, it can make you angry or happy or scared. Writers of 'fake' news know that articles that appeal to extreme emotion are more likely to get clicks. If an article makes you really angry or super sad, check those facts!

3. Authors usually are not experts.
Sometimes they are not even journalists, often they are employees paid to write click-bait. Check the author's credentials by running their name through a search engine to see where else and what else they have written.

4. The claims cannot be easily found elsewhere.
If you look up the main idea of the news article in a search engine you may not be able to find it covered in any reputable news sources.

5. Is the site legit?
Did your article come from abcnews.com.co? Or mercola.com? Realnewsrightnow.com? These and a host of others regularly post false or misleading information.

What kinds of false or misleading news exist?

There are four broad categories of misleading news, according to media professor Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College.

CATEGORY 1: Fake, false, or regularly misleading websites that are shared on Facebook and social media. Some of these websites may rely on “outrage” by using distorted headlines and decontextualized or dubious information in order to generate likes, shares, and profits.

CATEGORY 2: Websites that may circulate misleading and/or potentially unreliable information

CATEGORY 3: Websites which sometimes use clickbait-y headlines and social media descriptions

CATEGORY 4: Satire/comedy sites, which can offer important critical commentary on politics and society, but have the potential to be shared as actual/literal news

No single topic falls under a single category - for example, false or misleading medical news may be entirely fabricated (Category 1), may intentionally misinterpret facts or misrepresent data (Category 2), may be accurate or partially accurate but use an alarmist title to get your attention (Category 3) or may be a critique on modern medical practice (Category 4.)  Some articles fall under more than one category.  Assessing the quality of the content is crucial to understanding whether what you are viewing is true or not.   It is up to you to do the legwork to make sure your information is good.

The dangers of deepfakes

What are deepfakes? 

Deepfakes are videos created using artificial intelligence technology, to create something that never happened using either the audio or video imagery. While some are created purely for satirical reasons, deepfakes are very often passed on as real videos and begin to rapidly circulate false information across the internet. Deepfakes have been commonly used to spread fake political news. 

See links below for more information and examples on deepfakes. 

What to Think About When Thinking About the News

  1. What is the main idea of this article?
    Does the article point to verifiable facts? Does the title of the article make sense compared to the content of the article?
  2. How does this article want you to feel?
    Does the article use emotion rather than facts to make a point? Does it make you unreasonably sad or angry?
  3. Does this article provide evidence for its claims?
    Do the links in the article go to well-established journals or statistical sites? Or do they send you to "alternative" sites with little factual information?
  4. Can you independently verify the claims in the article?
    Can you find information that verifies the claims in the article through a library database or on a reliable and well-known website?

What's wrong with false or intentionally misleading news?

Why should you care about whether or not your news is real or fake?

  1. You deserve the truth. You are smart enough to make up your own mind - as long as you have the real facts in front of you.
  2. Using/ restating false or misleading news destroys your credibility. If your arguments are built on bad information, it will be much more difficult for people to believe you in the future.
  3. Fake news can hurt you, and a lot of other people. Purveyors of fake and misleading medical advice like Mercola.com and NaturalNews.com help perpetuate myths like HIV and AIDS aren't related, or that vaccines cause autism. These sites are heavily visited and their lies are dangerous.
  4. Real news can benefit you. If you want to buy stock in a company, you want to read accurate articles about that company so you can invest wisely. If you are planning on voting in an election, you want to read as much good information on a candidate so you can vote for the person who best represents your ideas and beliefs. Fake news will not help you make money or make the world a better place, but real news can.

Attribution

This guide is based on the Fake News guide from Indiana University East Campus Library. 

Please feel free to share this guide with others.  If you are a librarian, you are welcome to use this guide and its contents for your own purposes.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.